February 1, 2006

Stem cell treatment shows promise for lupus: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Stem cells from the bone marrow of patients with severe cases of lupus can help reverse the course of the chronic inflammatory disease when transplanted back into the same patients, according to a study published on Tuesday.

Of 50 patients who underwent the procedure, half were disease free after five years, doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago said. Those involved in the study had either life-threatening or organ-threatening lupus and had exhausted all treatment options.

The patients' bone marrow stem cells were taken from their blood and separated out. High doses of chemotherapy were used to almost destroy the stem cells' immune systems before they were reintroduced to try to regenerate a healthier immune system, the study said.

"The idea is that if you turn back the clock and let the immune system heal itself, the patient should have a chance of ending up without the disease," said Richard Burt, the physician who led the study.

Burt did the first U.S. stem cell transplant for lupus in 1997. His study ran from 1997 through January 2005. The results, he said, justify a larger study comparing transplants to other methods of treatment.

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that affects the skin, joints, blood, kidneys and other parts of the body, causing inflammation and pain.

The study was published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.